Good Ideas

As it’s the end of the year, I’ve been thinking, as you do, idly over a glass of wine while sitting in the house where I grew up, of how to best help solve the world’s trickiest problems.
And while I’m not able to solve all of them, I think I have pretty good ideas to sort out at least two…

Idea #1 – Reducing the Annoyance of Orange Marches (and all other long parades, etc.)

Sadly, I can’t help with the noise, associated nastiness or religious issues, but there’s one bloody annoying part of Orange marches – and to be fair, also all other marches; I’m only singling them out cos there seem to be much more frequent than any other – that I can help with.

Picture the scene: you’re in town, you’re going for a train, you go to cross say St Vincent Street and OH BLOODY HELL A MARCH. Going to have to stand there for ages while they all file past; no chance of nipping across or managing to get your train. You can’t even jump on a bus, cos traffic has been brought to gridlock by the mass of people moving past without a break.

[Yes, that train, the train you were going for and had left just *exactly* the right amount of time to get to, assuming there would be no marches or ticket barriers (*) in your way.]

But! With one simple, tiny change, no longer is this a problem.
It’s an idea that, I’m pleased to say, is sheer elegance in its simplicity:

Marches use the roads. So logically, marches, and their participants, should all have to obey the rules of the road.
*Including stopping at traffic lights when they turn red*

There – take a moment to think about that. It is genius. It is simple, and it would work.

Any folk taking part in a march simply have to stop or go when the lights tell them to – like any other bit of traffic would! This would allow folk to cross at pedestrian crossings – and even more helpfully – other traffic on the cross-roads – not to get all blocked up as well.

Folk who want to march or protest about things can, and folk who just want to catch their bloody train on time can as well. Everyone is happy 🙂

So, who’s with me for the letter writing campaign to our Politician Overlords to make this happen ?

Idea #2 – Reducing the Ridiculous Amount of Money and Hassle it costs to Have a Wedding These Days

Now, this is an idea I’ve discussed earlier iterations with various people over the years, but they’ve all failed to find it as appealing as I do. But I’ve recently figured out a tweak that should make all the difference…

The background is that weddings are unreasonably expensive – whether or not you’re having one, or being invited to one, the costs add up. If you’re invited as a guest, you feel guilty if you don’t spend money on a fancy present, and its often tricky to find something you think your friends would like, rather than just something for the sake of it.

From the participants perspective, as folk are increasingly likely to have lived together and set up house prior to getting married, the old sensible idea of using a wedding list to get the stuff you need for a house is less useful.
How many more toasters or pots do you really need?

So, currently, the wedding is very expensive, and you end up with lots of stuff that isn’t necessarily that useful, bought for you by folk that couldn’t think of a better way to show they care about you.

Solution: people who want to come to the wedding – or who you’d like to come – don’t buy you presents at all – but they do buy shares in the day. They can buy as many shares as they like – and shares start out very cheap, so the people keenest to come along – your immediate family & friends that actually like you and answer the invitation quickly pay very little indeed.
The closer to the day of the wedding, the more expensive the share price gets.

So if more people want to come at the last minute (some vague relative’s friends daughter your parents are insistent should come along because), the event does get more expensive, but there’s also more money in the pot to pay for it.

(Also, these would be non-voting shares, so while people will have a sense of ownership and participation in the day, they don’t get any actually say in how it’s run; The wedding itself is then effectively the AGM – no admittance except to shareholders.).

So, people would be helping to get together and contribute to giving you something nice – the happy day that you want with the people you actually care about most likely to be there – and don’t feel guilty for not contributing, and you don’t end up bankrupted amidst a sea of cruet sets.
Everybody wins (and gets a nice share certificate to frame and put on their wall).

Plus, if there’s any cash left over, you could spend it on the honeymoon or on buying a new gadget 🙂




(*) Don’t get me started…

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Title Post

The name of a film is a carefully chosen part of its marketing, of its atmosphere, of telling you what it’s all about.

In the very old days, of course, when you bought your cinema ticket, it was probably dispensed from an automaticket machine, a wee piece of paper printed with the price of the ticket, and not much else.

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 43 36

Then came progress – tickets printed on a wee dot matrix printer that, amazingly, *had the actual name of the film you were seeing on it*.

Fantastically useful for keeping track of what films you’d seen and when. But then came Progress.

Thermal printers, different papers, smaller tickets, very odd font and layout choices, and the amount of space given over on the tickets to fitting the name of the film in gets smaller and smaller…

Very little attempt is now made by the cinemas to adapt the tickets to the films, or to pick sensible abbreviations to make them fit sensibly.

This is why, when sorting through a pile of old tickets recently, I discovered the following films I have apparently seen:

The Little Known Movie Spin off from the Teletubbies…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 57

The James Bond movie to end all James Bond movies…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 52

The sequel to the hit film ‘Batman Is’…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 47

A prequel to spider man, starring his mother…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 40

An Italian film about a killer cyborg from the future…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 44

Some other kind of film I’m not very sure about… Touching Adult ?!

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 49

…and finally another film in the series: Planet Of Verb, Planet of Adjective, and the…

Screen Shot 2011 08 22 at 19 49 35


Anyone else got any other nice examples of almost might-have-been films ?



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Dumbarton Past-Present

I was in Dumbarton yesterday, enjoying a welcome break from the muggy weather at ground level by having a bracing climb up Dumbarton Rock (and putting my Historic Scotland membership to good use too, since I got in free).

I was trying to figure out when I’d last been there, guessing about 8 – 10 years ago.

Once I got home, a bit of ferreting around on the old computer – never thow anything away! – came up trumps, with what must have been pictures take with one of my very first digital cameras (maximum resolution 1024×768!), back in late 2002.

I thought it might be interesting to compare one of the views in particular, of the old distillery site… still pretty much intact in 2002, now a barren wasteland, apart from the one remaining tall still building, looking very sorry for itself.





There’s some interesting reading on this page about the design framework for the site, and the interesting arguments for and against retaining these important industrial heritage buildings in any redevelopment…

It is probably a somewhat unusual position for urban designers to find themselves in, having persuaded a developer to retain unlisted but important buildings, to then have the council wish them to be demolished.

Unfortunately, this is undated, so I’m not sure how recent it is. Does anyone know the current state of play regarding the site ?

Oddly,  I can’t find details of the above building on the Buildings At Risk register, but when searching for it, I did find this, the lovely 30s Mountblow Sports Pavilion, which we’d spotted from the train, now sadly derelict.


Buildings At Risk details here


A full gallery of pictures from the Dumbarton trip can be found on Flickr here.

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Lost in a maze of twisty-turny passages all alike…

Moving home involves updating a lot of information with a lot of different companies. Some make things easy. Some make things as complicated as possible. Some are just astonishingly inept.

At least one is clearly downright evil.

So my Changing Your Information WIth Different Companies Awards are as follows….

Most Complicated Phone Tree:

BT. Without a doubt.

Press 1 if you want to do a thing, unless you also want to do another thing, in which case, press x, where x = y + z – the number you first thought of + the number of minutes you suspect you’re going to end up listening to recorded messages telling you how much easier all of this would be to do on the website.


You’ve been cut off. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Get a Telephone Line, Do Not Collect £200, Go Directly to Starting the Entire Painful Progress From the Beginnning Again.

Least Complicated Phone Tree:

One Account Mortgage Company


“Hello? How can we help you?”


Astonishingly refreshing – no phone tree, no waiting in a queue, just someone answering the phone directly when you ring the number. I was so shocked to be speaking to a human being so quickly I nearly spilled my gin & tonic.

Special Commendation for Avoiding the Problem:

Glasgow City Council – Council Tax phone line

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Constantly engaged. No idea how complex the phone tree is once you get through. Gave up.

Whole Other Level of Awkwardness & Incompetence Award

A certain credit card company I phoned up to change my address; I was told that I would have to send original copies of a utility bill *and* a bank statement featuring the new address.

Asked why it was this complicated; was told they couldn’t change my address over the phone, apparently because I’d not used the card for a while.
Explained I’d not used the card for a while because every time I tried to use it, the transaction was declined.

‘Oh yes sir, that’s because there’s a block on the card.’

Right. So why is that? My balance is zero. There’s nothing outstanding. And you didn’t think to mention this earlier in the conversation ?

‘Because of a security breach.’

What kind of security breach?

‘Some statements were returned as undeliverable from your old address.’

Right. I had wondered why I hadn’t had a statement in the last 6 months or so. In fact, I phoned you up some months ago to ask why I hadn’t had a statement for a while, and you claimed that they must have got lost in the post.
Did you not think to get in touch with me – you have my email address, you have my phone number – to tell me there was a problem?

‘Oh no, it’s not our policy to get in touch with our customers to tell them of problems with the account.’


So how was I supposed to know? I’ve logged into the website on a number of occaisons, and there’s been nothing there to say there is a problem with the card or the account.

“We’ve blocked the card, but there’s nothing blocking you logging into the website.”

Yes, I know – but perhaps that would be a good mechanism through which to tell me you think there is a security breach on the account ?

“Oh no, we don’t tell you when there’s a problem, we wait until you phone us to tell us the card isn’t working.”


“if you’d like to send your documents to [this address], we’ll update our records.”

Hmm. Perhaps I’ll just cancel the card, since you’re a bunch of incompetent useless idiots.

Just Plain Evil

Entirely unrelated to the current house-moving situation, but worth repeating.


My Dad died a few years ago.

Most of the companies we dealt with in the immediate aftermath of that made things as easy and straightforward as possible to help us deal with the many complicated logistics at that difficult time.

The Banks were, to my surprise, the most helpful, making the process really quite smooth. Most companies handled things quite well, to be honest. BT made me phone up pretending to be my Dad, to let me transfer the account into my Mum’s name, because every other option was just too complicated, but that’s another story.

A certain credit card company – CAPITAL ONE – made things as awkward – and painful – as they possibly could. No-one in my family will ever give them our custom again, and I urge anyone else that reads this to do the same.

My father had a Capital One credit card. After he died, my mother and I wrote to them, sending back his credit card cut up into pieces, and INCLUDING A COPY OF THE DEATH CERTIFICATE, asking them to close the account.

They then wrote back, not to us, but in a letter addressed directly to my late father, including AN ENTIRELY NEW CREDIT CARD in his name, and letting him know that they’d received a request to close the account, but that to do that, they would require him to phone up their customer services – in person – to make any alterations to his account.
Meanwhile, his new credit card was enclosed, and he could start using that immediately.

We wrote to them again, including another copy of the death certificate, explaining why this would not be possible, what with him being somewhat dead. Plus including the replacement card, cut up again.

We eventually received another letter from them, saying they would be prepared to consider closing the account, if we sent them details of all of his financial affairs and bank accounts.

We wrote back saying, no, we will not. The credit card account he had with you is fully paid up, so there is no need for you to have any details about other financial information, please just close the account. Oh, and if you could please return the copy of the death certificate by recorded delivery, as they are quite expensive, we would be very grateful.

Eventually, several weeks later, a letter turned up, stating that the account had been closed, and ignoring our other comments. We wrote back, asking what had happened to the death certificate, and asking again for some comments from their customer service departments on whether or not this is how they generally treated the familes of customers that were deceased. Eventually, the death certificate arrived in the ordinary post, with no covering letter, apology, or anything else.

We wrote, again, to Capital One’s Customer Services address; we wrote to their corporate address, with letters addressed to the Chief Executive. No one ever bothered to get back to us responding to our concerns about the way we were treated.

Which is why, whenever anyone I know, or indeed randomly overhear, mentions getting a credit card, I immediately warn them off getting any sort of Capital One card.

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Jam Tomorrow: Trying to get BT to activate my broadband

“No, of course you can’t speak to the people at BT Wholesale that are dealing with the problem; they don’t talk to customers” !

Sigh. Why is nothing ever simple ?

Nearly a month into our new house, and we still don’t have broadband. It was supposed to be activated on Monday 20th June – two full weeks ago – but 14 days later, we’re still phoning BT every other day, and being repeatedly assured that it will *definitely* be working by this tomorrow, we promise. Oh this engineer will *definitely* be able to fix it, honest. Oh, and we’ll be in touch directly if there’s any change on the system.

As if.

Two engineer appointments, more phone calls than I care to remember, several different call centres (on more than one continent), and some buck-passing between BT Retail and BT Wholesale, this has it all.

Monday 20th June – the Day Of Activation.

Come home after work to find a voicemail on the landline saying the activation would now not be happening till Thursday due to ‘a technical problem.’

Thursday 23rd June – the (new) Day Of Activation.

Receive an email at 10.06am from BT – “Congratulations – your broadband is now activated and ready to use!”.

Also receive a text from BT  – “Your broadband is now activated. Your password is .”

[NB that’s not been edited to remove the password – it simply wasn’t in the message!]

Come home from work, and try it. It’s not working. Try a different modem/router, try different phone socket, try a different microfilter, try turning it on and back off again. Spend more time than is healthy watching a small green light blinking slowly and entirely failing to go solidly on.

Decide to wait till next day, as per BT suggestions, to see if it activates overnight.

It doesn’t.

Friday 24th June – the Day of Fault Reporting

Attempt to phone BT to report that the line is still not active.

Phone the Moving House/BB Activation team, as this is who I have been dealing with up till this point. Told their system shows the line as active, so this is not an activation problem, and I need to go through the technical team. Transferred to technical team, and prompty cut off.

Phone back technical number, and after navigating the maze of unhelpful information, pre-recorded unskippable messages telling you to turn your router on and off again, and to try looking at the BT Website for lots of helpful information on how to make your internet connection work, finally get through to a human being.

Explain problem, they do a line check, which shows a fault (at BT Retail’s servers). Fault is logged, told an engineer will ring me ‘tomorrow morning between 9.30 and 10.00 to discuss the problem’.

Saturday 25th June – the Day of Not Being Phoned Back

At 11.30am, with no-one having being in touch, phoned again. Was told no engineer was supposed to be getting in touch with me, as they don’t do that.

Did I want to book one to look at the problem?

The first available slot was now apparently Tuesday 28th between 1pm-6pm.

After I moaned about this a bit on Twitter, was first followd by a @BTCare account, and then phoned by them, who assured me that whatever the issue, the engineer would definitely be able to fix the problem on Tuesday afternoon.

Tuesday 28th June – the Day of The First Engineer Appointment

Booked time off work; waited in on Tuesday afternoon. Engineer phoned to say problem was at the exchange, a network card had failed, this was a BT Wholesale problem, and not one that he could fix. He assured me the card (affecting up to 100 lines at the exchange) would be replaced & things working again ‘this afternoon or first thing Wednesday morning.’

Wednesday 29th June – the Day of Getting Slightly Cross

Come Weds lunchtime, with no obvious change in the status of the line (and the online status checker not having updated, plus there being no mention of a more general problem with the exchange on the service status page), phoned BT again.

Just wanted to get update to how long to expect till network card was replaced; had to speak to three different people (front line support, a supervisor after I was obviously getting slighty cross being told to reboot my router yet again, and was finally transferred to a ‘technical specialist’, who was at last (and unlike everyone else I’d spoken to) able to bring up details of my actual fault report.

This person promised to speak to BT Wholesale to find out status, and get back to me. She did ring back, within 30 minutes, but was unable to give me any other information except that the problem was with BT Wholesale Diagnostics, they hadn’t fixed it yet, but to give it another 24 hours and it would spring to life. Also told that there was ‘no need to keep ringing us for an update, we’ll get in touch with you as soon as anything changes with the status‘.

Suspiciously, at the same time I finished this call with BT Technical, (around 13.25) the online fault checker was updated to claim the problem had been ‘cleared’. It wasn’t.

Thursday 30th June – the Day of Mixed Messages and Being Cut Off Again

[Today’s part is guest-written by @calluna_ as I had no energy to deal with BT again…]

– phoned in am to report online fault checker now said problem was resolved, but nobody had contacted us and BB still not working. Technical team confirmed there was still a fault on the line; said they would get fault reopened but would need to check with BT Wholesale about its status, would phone me back in 2 hours.

– phoned back by ‘Concern team’ (?!) to say that BT Wholesale reported that there were no problems at the exchange, and that an engineer would have to be sent to property. Some confusion here about existing fault; was first told that BT Wholesale had not attended to it, then that BT Wholesale had indeed attended to it but had found nothing wrong, before finally being told that BT Wholesale had attended to it and replaced something in the exchange (presumably the faulty network card mentioned by the BT engineer on Tuesday).

– that phone call was disconnected; was not called back, so called back myself and had to go through the entire phone tree again. Technical team said that there was no record of my earlier phone call, that there was no record of BT Wholesale giving an update on the complaint, and that they would need to check with BT Wholesale and phone me back in about 2 hours. After explaining that I had already waited two hours once only to be cut off, was put on hold so staff member could call BT Wholesale himself.

– technical staff member confirmed that BT Wholesale had attended problem, replaced something at the exchange, and said everything was working as far as they could tell. Went through basic diagnostic checks of home equipment once again (rebooting router, using test socket etc.), was finally told that an engineer would have to be sent to the property, but that appointment could not be made before Monday 4th.

– was told that the reason online fault check had changed status to ‘fixed’ was because of BT Wholesale replacing a part. BT clearly assuming that problem was therefore fixed and needed no further attention, despite a line check on their part still showing a problem when I phoned.

Frustrating to go through basic checks *again*, to have to explain situation from scratch to several different people, and getting the distinct impression that nobody was aware of status of problem, length of problem, or location of problem.

Monday 4th July – The Day of The Second Engineer Appointment

Took another morning off work to wait in for Engineer.

Phoned promptly by engineer at 8.30am, on way to exchange to investigate problem.

Engineer called back later to say there’s apparently a problem with the network card at exchange, which needs to be replaced by BT Wholesale, which should be done today, after which it will spring to life.

Point out (slightly grumpily) this is *exactly* the same as the previous engineer said last Tuesday, and mentioned the multiple claims by BT Technical people on phone that card had been replaced and that BT Wholesale report no problems.

Engineer says his notes say Wholesale did not in fact replace the card last week, but just reset it the last time, but that they will definitely replace it today.

Checking the online fault status indicator after this call, the fault was apparently set to ‘Cleared’ again on Sun 3 July at 1357, despite nothing obviously happening yesterday.

We have repeatedly been told by BT Technical staff that they would ring us in the event of any changes in status to check if things were working or not; this has never happened. 
Clearly the fault is not ‘cleared’ as the Engineer today found the same problem with the network card as last week.

A Happy Ending … ?

14 days in, and still no broadband…

After using a very rude word on Twitter to summarise how increasingly annoyed I am, a tweet an hour or so ago from BTCare said that:

@gordonbarr I’ve called the engineers & they have advised that they are going to change the network card today.

I await with interest to see if anything actually happens, or if we have to go round the merry-go-round of passing the buck, claiming to not have any record of the problem, and getting us to reboot the fricking router once again.

Update: 15:45pm – well crikey – THERE BE INTERNET HERE AT LAST !!

[And if you’re wondering how I can update this ranty blogy with no internet connection, it’s thanks to the free wifi in my favourite coffee shop – Rudi’s Coffee, aka Not Beanscene on Cresswell Lane.]

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